April 24, 2018

Kids in the Canyon: Reaching Out­­­



Kids in the Canyon: Reaching Out­­­

Amy Weisberg teaching about the L.A. river to children from the West Valley Boys & Girls Club in Canoga Park.

Summertime is a time for adventures, travel, a lighter workload and catching up around the house. This summer, however, is a little different for me. I am involved in a wonderful project with the West Valley Boys & Girls Club of Canoga Park.

Roughly seven years ago, my friend, Karen Silton, and I taught a summer mosaic class. Karen is an artist with amazing talent and I lent my hand to create a curriculum to enhance the class including music, a bit of cultural studies and, of course, a snack. We taught a small group of children and one of them was Sarah Green, whose father, Larry Green (a Topanga parent) is the Vice President of U.S. Development for Westfield (as in the new Westfield Village mall). He noticed how much the kids loved working with tile and creating art, mentioning that it would be so great to share this with other kids. We loved the idea of sharing art experiences with more children and kept the conversation going as the new Village went from ideas, to plans, to being built.

Westfield has a relationship with the West Valley Boys and Girls Club of Canoga Park and, as the new Topanga Village was being developed, there was an opportunity to incorporate mosaics on the cement benches set in the pocket parks, which will line Victory Boulevard. The Department of Cultural Affairs deemed the project worthy and the mosaic art will tie in with the murals that will be installed on the side of the Costco building. This June and July, Karen and I are working with the children to bring this vision to life.


Kids in the Canyon: Reaching Out­­­

Stamped clay pieces made by children from the West Valley Boys & Girls Club in Canoga Park for a mural at the new Westfield Village Mall.

“We are incredibly excited about the mosaic project. This will not only be a wonderful piece of art but will further connect The Village to our community. The true motivator for the mosaic project, however, is that it directly enriches the lives of children who attend the West Valley Boys & Girls Club. That is what excites all of us,” said Green.

The Los Angeles River actually begins right in Canoga Park, at the high school. In our research, we consulted with the Friends of the Los Angeles River and, coincidently, Karen had the opportunity to talk with Topanga resident William Preston Bowling, who holds the title of Special Projects Manager, and Ariel Van Pelt, School Programs Manager.

We went to the Frog Spot and walked along the river in the Glendale Narrows area. Karen was inspired by the drawings of the murals planned for The Village and the river theme seemed like the perfect idea to incorporate history and art into the mosaic project.

The first workshop was held in the large art room at the West Valley Boys & Girls Club in June. Karen created molds of animals and plants indigenous to the Los Angeles River, our theme. The children came in age-based groups hourly throughout the day. I taught the kids about some of the different birds—there are more than 450 different birds that inhabit the river in different locations— that either live in or migrate to the Los Angeles River. I used an interactive lesson with a story and pictures of the various birds and shared information about the river transforming from a natural riverbank, to the cement river we see now.

Karen and her son, Aevrey, helped the kids press clay into molds, smoothing it out, then peeling the clay off the mold and writing their initials on their piece. These pieces will be used as a border to the mosaics created for the benches that will face Victory Boulevard.

Karen fired the clay pieces, which will be glazed by the kids during the July workshop. I will be teaching them about the biodiversity of the Los Angeles River beginning with the Tongva Native Americans who first inhabited the Canoga Park area. The kids will learn how the plants, animals and people of the habitat are interdependent, and how things have changed. Then the pieces will be fired again and incorporated into the mosaic.

“The Boys & Girls Club of the West Valley is delighted to have their children participate in the mosaic project for the Westfield Village,” said Jan Sobel, President and CEO of the West Valley Boys & Girls Club. “Not only are they learning how to create art, they are also excited about having their artwork displayed to the public. This is a wonderful opportunity for all of us in the community.”

Working with the more than 80 kids is a rewarding experience for both Karen and me.

“It's so exciting to be able to create something beautiful for our community and the Westfield Village Topanga with the incredible kids of the West Valley Boys & Girls Club,” said Silton

We are enjoying the opportunity of sharing an art technique that is not often offered in schools and that most of these kids have not had the opportunity to experience first-hand. I enjoyed selecting and developing the curriculum and learning about the history of the Los Angeles River habitat, too. Having the opportunity to work with so many children, ranging in age from 5-12 years old, is something that I don’t get to do every day at my school. It feels like such a good way to reach out into the larger community. When the mosaic murals are completed, they will be installed on the benches in time for the September opening of the new community gathering space at The Village. The children will have the opportunity to visit their art, which will be a permanent enhancement to their neighborhood.

Reaching out can be a way to give an art lesson, a science and history lesson, and it is a way for the kids to give something long-lasting, beautiful and special to their community.

For questions or comments, please send e-mail at amweisberg@completeteach.com, with “Ask Amy” in the subject line. I would love both feedback and questions!